Ted-Ed and all that

There’s been a bit of bite-back recently around the ‘Ted-Ed’ concept and the usefulness, relevance or otherwise of the whole shooting match of powerful people spouting powerful ideas. Apparently, they censored a Ted Talk that was critical of the inequity at the heart of American society. That idea sure ain’t going anywhere fast. Gary Stager had a field day. He’s hated the Ted Talk thing from day one. Salon described Ted Talks this way

Strip away the hype and you’re left with a reasonably good video podcast with delusions of grandeur. For most of the millions of people who watch TED videos at the office, it’s a middlebrow diversion and a source of factoids to use on your friends. Except TED thinks it’s changing the world, like if “This American Life” suddenly mistook itself for Doctors Without Borders. (here)

Admission 1 – I was always a bit sceptical about the $1000 a seat, or invite only idea that the Ted Talks seemed to be about in the first place. Yes, I too, smiled and nodded in hearty agreement when Sir Ken Robinson told us all how schools were killing creativity, but not a lot of the videos interested me, and the education ones always seemed a bit ‘off’ somehow. Too American maybe? Or too corporate? Or is that the same thing?

So, I hadn’t paid much attention to them really. I like video, and I think that they are a great resource when used carefully and judiciously. I’ve been actively campaigning for YouTube access at my school, first for teachers and, just this week, for senior students too. So far, the sky hasn’t fallen.

Admission 2 – However, I’m very dubious about the Khan Academy kind of approach to learning. **Maybe** the drill and drill kind of repeat and rewind thing might be useful for a skill based kind of subject (a concept in Maths?) but for Literature? I want to show that part from Olivier’s Hamlet where he finds himself in the graveyard as Ophelia is brought there, or the amazing swordfight at the end of Branagh’s version. I want to show it at the right moment in the teaching, that three to ten minute scene, then talk about it. That’s not anything to do with a chalkboard screencast of factorisation repeated until you can say it too.

But (Admission 3) I have become very interested in the concept of the *flipped classroom* and how that might supplement and enhance the classroom work I’m involved in. What if I could deliver that 20 minute overview of the SAC *success criteria* in a podcast or vidcast, and then gets the students to watch that at home? Wouldn’t that leave that 20 minutes or so free for the class to actually talk, collaborate, seek support, get on with things? That’s tempting. And (Admission 4) the tools for creating and delivering some of these enhancements, these ‘flipping’ tools, are so powerful and accessible and first time ever that they’re almost too good not to use. I can add audio to a PowerPoint with Adobe Connect and put it online so my students can watch it, and listen to the audio. I can set up an online meeting (I’ve talked about this before) with Adobe Connect and have a revision session prior to the exams, everyone in their own homes, meeting together. And that’s not to mention Skype, Slideshare, Edmodo, Class Dojo and good ol’ podcasts themselves to support student learning. So many geat tools, so little time.

Which brings me back to Ted-Ed, and their next innovation, allowing teachers to ‘frame’ a Ted Ed video with some questions: questions for understanding, questions for deeper meaning, deeper questions. And, they promise that it will work with YouTube videos too. Which is pretty exciting. A YouTube video taken away from the hideous comments and un-related playlists and brought into a learning context.

I couldn’t get it to work at first, and of course if that YouTube video goes away, so does your lesson. But it’s a much better way of looking at and framing a YouTube video in the classroom, or set for homework like the example below.

Here’s one I put together for Literature homework on Frankenstein. 

Getting started on thinking about ideas in Mary Shelley’s text: http://ed.ted.com/on/Cd3PnwNz

Or this one for the students I’m working with in Pen Club: http://ed.ted.com/on/US1FygmB

I’m still not receiving invites to Ted Talks, and console myself that any club that would have me as a member I don’t want to join. Andrew Douch said recently that he thought audio was more powerful and effective than video anyway, but here’s another tool for learning which, when combined with thoughtful teaching, might make a difference.



  1. Warrick – an interesting post. I, too, have been very wary about using video in the way that some ‘flipped’ classroom enthusiasts have been doing. To my mind, deep learning of ideas need to be explored as a class, so that prior knowledge is determined, misconceptions are brought out by skillful probing and discussion is heard by all that engages learners by connecting new learning to old in deliberate and purposeful ways. A video seems to be a very linear, transmission style of delivering content that is (sometimes) a visually more exciting form of delivering a lecture to an individual, rather than a lecture theatre full of students.
    And I still believe that this is the case when one wants to really teach for understanding and engender deep learning.
    It is a fallacy, however, to believe that mathematics is somehow less ideas-rich than literature, that connections do not have to be made or that concepts are not of a high level of challenge. There is a skill component to the subject that can be made better with practice so that fluency develops. But there is this component in any discipline. Mathematics has unfortunately been taught as if it is only about the learning of a set of skills and procedures and answer getting. But it is not and should not be learnt in this way. I would be very saddened to think that people be encouraged to use this tool to reinforce the idea that the teaching of mathematics is about covering content.
    I have used a couple of videos through TedEd with one of my maths classes for aspects of the curriculum that are more skills-based than others and do not require great conceptual demands and found these useful. But I would not use them for concept development. To do so only cheapens the discipline, in my view.

  2. I agree with you about the necessity to think more carefully about how you deliver (for want of a better word) fact-type learning. There isn’t as much of that in Lit and English but I do like your idea about using it to give overviews about SAC outcomes. I guess one advantage that visual media have over podcasts such as Douchy’s is that you can link the ideas to a visual stimulus for certain topics. For example when teaching language analysis it is useful to see some practice annotations.
    Food for thought and good to know nothing will ever rlace good teaching!

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